Buffalo hunter Jonas Trapp wants revenge on the men who robbed him of $17,000 and burned his chest with a branding iron. His wife wants vengeance because he never wrote during the 11 years he was gone and expects to pick up where he left off when he rides back into Coldiron, Texas (Pop. 754), even though she's been seeing the banker socially. Which means that Trapp also wants revenge on him for "stealing" his wife. But by the end of this 101-minute made-for-TV movie, I wanted revenge on the whole bunch of them for wasting my time—which, I guess, is where the "beyond vengeance" part comes in.
Steely-eyed Chuck Connors had just finished his run as Lucas McCain, "The Rifleman" who carried a wonderful sawed-off Winchester that he could fire in three-tenths of a second. Too bad he didn't bring that gun with him, because it's like sending Jim Bowie into the casting office without his knife. This western could have used a trick gun.
Or a better trick than a contemporary frame that probably confused everyone who went to the kitchen to make popcorn to watch this western and returned to see James "Book 'em, Dan-o" McArthur as a census taker circa 1960 who's telling a bartender how everyone in town wants to tell him a story about "the reprisal," which, of course is the western we're about to see. But the frame doesn't add a thing—not resonance, not texture, not depth, not irony—and so it's just a gimmick whose only function is to create parts for more familiar TV faces (the bartender is Arthur O'Connell). A pre-Hulk Bill Bixby (who was playing the mild-mannered straight man in "My Favorite Martian" at the time) is here, as is Michael Rennie (who'd just completed a series called "The Third Man" in which he played a charming double-dealer), and Claude Akins, who, before his Sheriff Lobo days, had minor roles in countless television shows. Give any of these actors a role that they can sink their teeth into, and they'll do a fine job. But drop them, like time travelers, into a clunky made-for-TV script like this one, and they become mired in melodrama.
The western portion of the film begins with Connors riding toward Coldiron. He's a "smelly Buffalo man" who'd plied his trade so long that his appearance is as shaggy as the beasts he slaughtered. He sees a campfire and has a hankerin' for coffee. When he gets there, someone takes off and he helps himself to a cup. Next thing you know, a cowboy and two dudes are coming out of the brush and accusing him of rustling. One wants to string him up, but a sadistic dandy named Johnsy Boy Hood (Bixby) gets off by plunging a flaming hot branding iron onto his chest. So he heads back to the place where "dad" lives and recovers, then goes back into town to find the men who stole his money and exact his revenge. Adapted from a novel, "The Night of the Tiger," by Al Dewlen, "Ride Beyond Vengeance feels as if huge chunks of the book must have been omitted. It plays more like a short story written in shorthand, it's so slight.
Bad television dramatic conventions abound. There's the cheesy, melodramatic music that accompanies every overacted action, dialogue that's as cardboard as soap-opera monologues, and "Bonanza"-style sets that couldn't look more artificial and man-made. But at least in "Bonanza" there were interesting characters, relationships, and plotlines to divert our attention. With "Ride Beyond Vengeance," the characters' motivations for their actions belie any sort of logic. Why would a man leave his wife for the frontier and not contact her for 11 years and still think she's got a candle burning in the window for him after he suddenly gets lonesome for her? Why would two dudes and a cowpoke be in the brush outside of town after dark and in a position to catch this "rustler"? How did the banker manage to grab $17,000 (which is a chunk of cash) without the other three noticing? Kathryn Hays ("As the World Turns") plays Jonas's wife, Jessie, and the rest of the cast may as well have been taking their melodramatic cues from her, their performances are so overstated.
Glenn Yarbrough sings "You Can't Ever Go Home Again," and this film proves it. Look for Bixby to have a Hulk moment when his character goes inexplicably maniacal and self-destructive, and look for Jamie "Klinger" Farr ("M*A*S*H") to turn up in a brief role, as well as Frank "The Riddler" Gorshin. But holy saddlebags, Batman, there's not a whole lot more.
Video: Surprisingly, the film is presented in widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in High Definition—though there's still plenty of grain to be found, pardners, and the colors are dull and muted, not rich or saturated.
Audio: The audio is unspecified, but it appears to be Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, with subtitles in Japanese and English. Like the film, it falls just short of competence.
Extras: There are no extras.
Bottom Line: Chuck Connors fans might find this entertaining, but straight-shooting lovers of the genre will have to admit that there are much better westerns out there. A whole herd of them.